Ohio may soon become the first state to freeze its clean energy mandates after a relentless effort from utilities. But the state's major newspapers continue to overlook that the legislators behind the bill are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council -- an organization that connects corporations, including fossil fuel interests, to legislators -- despite repeatedly quoting the organization's members.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review criticized the renewal of federal tax credits for wind energy, claiming the credits "would blatantly waste taxpayer dollars on a manifestly unsustainable industry that's wholly dependent on government subsidies." However, other energy industries also receive billions of dollars in federal subsidies and tax breaks to keep them competitive, which the editorial did not mention.
In a May 13 editorial the Tribune-Review noted that the Senate Finance Committee recently approved a two-year renewal for wind energy projects, slated to cost $13 billion over 10 years. It called the renewal a "waste" of taxpayer dollars and advocated for "more reliable coal and nuclear plants" to meet electricity demand:
The last renewal, for 2013, allowed tax credits for projects under construction. The credits previously applied only to finished projects. American Wind Energy Association figures show installations rose sharply as 2012 ended and spiked again in 2013's fourth quarter as the industry took advantage of that change. It all prompted Erika Johnsen to write for the website Hot Air: "Could the wind industry's utter dependence on ... taxpayer help ... be any more apparent?"
There are better uses for taxpayer dollars than subsidizing wind energy, which "undercuts" more reliable coal and nuclear plants that are critical for meeting electricity demand, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., writes in The Wall Street Journal.
The example provided in the editorial of the spiking number of wind installations shows an industry attempting to increase production in a climate of uncertainty, something the fossil fuel industry does not have to contend with. As DBL Investors pointed out in a 2011 paper on the differences in subsidies different energy sources receive, unlike many other energy incentives, specifically for the oil and gas industry, which are permanently in the tax code, wind energy support has been allowed to expire several times since the creation of wind's primary incentive in 1992:
Some energy incentives, like the depletion allowance for oil and gas, are permanent in the tax code. Wind energy's primary incentive, the PTC, has been allowed to expire multiple times since its creation in 1992, and has been consistently reinstated for only one or two year terms.
Due to the series of shorter-term, 1-to-2-year PTC extensions, growing demand for wind power has been compressed into tight and frenzied windows of development. This has led to boom and bust cycles in renewable energy development, under-investment in manufacturing capacity in the U.S., and variable in equipment and supply costs. Recent work at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab suggests that this boom-and-bust cycle has made the PTC less effective in stimulating low-cost wind development than might be the case if a longer term and more stable policy were established.
A recent editorial in The Columbus Dispatch dismissed the impact of federal budget sequestration on jobs and the economy in Ohio, claiming it "did not cause the sky to fall." However, past editorials and news reports published by the paper highlighted the economic repercussions on Ohioans that would result from the cuts.
Scott Bach, an NRA board member and head of the NRA's New Jersey affiliate, dismissed the family of a child who died during the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre as "a prop" in response to the family's support for a New Jersey bill that would limit gun magazine size.
The New Jersey legislature is currently considering a bill which would reduce the legal ammunition magazine capacity from 15 rounds down to 10. Supporters of the legislation have pointed to mass shootings where high-capacity magazines were used, including Sandy Hook, to argue that such magazines threaten public safety. On May 5, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee will hold a hearing and possibly advance the bill to the full New Jersey Senate. The General Assembly version of the bill passed in March.
Bach, who is executive director of the official NRA affiliate group Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, made an April 30 appearance on the NRA News show Cam & Company in order to warn NRA members about the hearing, but while doing so he insulted Newtown families who have supported the legislation. In claiming that the real purpose of the legislation is to make Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie "uncomfortable because of the emotional component," Bach claimed the bill's backers "brought out the Newtown victim's family and frankly used them as a prop or a show."
The Columbus Dispatch incorrectly claimed that an effort by the Census Bureau to achieve a more accurate health care picture will eliminate the ability to gauge whether the law has achieved the goal of insuring the previously uninsured.
The April 28 editorial criticized a decision by the Census Bureau to alter the way it measures who has insurance coverage in an effort to achieve clearer results, claiming instead that the change "will make it impossible to get an apples-to-apples picture of how many Americans reported having health-insurance coverage before and after the law."
On April 15, the Census Bureau announced it would change the way it determines who had or did not have insurance coverage in the Current Population Survey (CPS) in an effort to obtain more accurate results. This process began under the Bush administration and, according to the Census Bureau, is "the culmination of 14 years of research." A statement released by the Bureau explained the reasoning behind the change:
The recent changes to the Current Population Survey's questions related to health insurance coverage is the culmination of 14 years of research and two national tests in 2010 and 2013 clearly showing the revised questions provide more precise measures of health insurance through improved respondent recall.
This change was announced in September 2013 and implemented because the evidence showed that reengineering the questions provides demonstrably more accurate results. The Census Bureau only implements changes in survey methodology based on research, testing, and evidence presented for peer review.
Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, reinforced this when he told The New Republic that the Current Population Survey (Census) was never really an accurate way to measure the uninsured. That's because the question asked by the Census measured the insured as a point in time, "but it's of course always been ambiguous what point in time."
The Richmond Times Dispatch cited a misleading poll that showed waning support for Medicaid expansion in Virginia and failed to explain the questionable phrasing used by the pollster.
The Times Dispatch editorial relied on an April 24 poll conducted by Christopher Newport University (CNU) that found that 53 percent of Virginians oppose the expansion of Medicaid currently being considered by the General Assembly. While the editorial board claimed to "share [the] concerns" of the poll's critics, they still used the poll's results to validate the Republican strategy of obstructing Medicaid expansion. The Times Dispatch continued:
We suspect the poll reflects the GOP's success in tying Medicaid expansion to Obamacare. The consequences of the botched debut of the Affordable Care Act continue to resonate. Backers of the plan may complain about unfair reactions, but a political fact is a political fact. Obamacare put Medicaid on Virginia's agenda, yet Medicaid's predicaments would exist even if Obamacare had gone down in congressional defeat.
The poll's results quickly came under scrutiny, mostly due to the way in which the polling questions on expansion differed markedly from the university's previous questions on the topic. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities explained, previous polls about Medicaid expansion conducted by the university asked about expansion in a more neutral fashion, leading their February poll to find support for expansion. This time, the question highlighted each party's argument, reinforcing the Republican's "straw man argument that the federal government will renege on its commitment to fund nearly all the costs of the expansion":
What the pollsters do not fully acknowledge, however, is that they asked the question in two markedly different ways, making this a highly misleading, apples-to-oranges finding that doesn't necessarily show a shift in public opinion:
- § On February 3 the question was asked: Medicaid is a health care program for families and individuals with low income that is funded by both federal and state tax dollars. Currently, Virginia is faced with a decision about whether to expand the Medicaid program to cover an additional 400,000 mostly working poor Virginians who are uninsured. In general, do you support Medicaid expansion or oppose it?
- § But on April 24 poll the question was asked: In [the Medicaid expansion] debate, the Democrats propose to subsidize private insurance for 400,000 uninsured and low income Virginians by using federal Medicaid money that would otherwise not come to Virginia. Republicans oppose this expansion because they fear the federal Medicaid money will not come as promised, and also say the current Medicaid program has too much waste and abuse and needs reformed before it is expanded.
Thus, unlike in February, Virginians in the most recent poll were asked whether the state should expand Medicaid only after they were read the straw man argument that the federal government will renege on its commitment to fund nearly all the costs of the expansion. As we have explained, the history of Medicaid's financing shows that federal funding has remained remarkably steady for decades.
With Republicans in control of the state legislature and governor's office, Tennessee has become an easy target for out-of-state dark money groups looking to push corporate interests through state legislatures. The Koch brothers, through their political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), have been at the forefront of the Tennessee takeover, pushing tax cuts, measures to block public transportation, and anti-Medicaid legislation among others. While some of Tennessee's newspapers have been quick to connect the questionable legislation with AFP, local television coverage rarely mentions the outside influence.
AFP is considered an example of a "dark money" organization -- a politically-focused group whose donors are not disclosed and whose actions reflect partisan positions. David Koch is co-founder of AFP and the Koch Family Foundation is known to have contributed generously to AFP based on records published by the foundation. In Tennessee, the state AFP chapter creates advertising campaigns and holds events that provide a platform for AFP staff to drum up support for their legislation.
Tracking the Koch brothers' outsized influence has recently been a popular endeavor among national news sources, so the billionaires' leap into Tennessee sounded the alarm across national media outlets. Local and state media have been slower to point out AFP's influence in state politics. While Koch pressure in Tennessee is nothing new, the state chapter of AFP opened last year, making this year the first legislative session with active local AFP participation. As the editorial board at the Tennessean explained, AFP's push to influence state politics has profound implications:
The billionaire Kochs do not live in Tennessee and never have. That is not important, as they, through their group Americans For Prosperity (AFP), and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), also not Tennessee-based, are increasingly deciding what laws the General Assembly should impose on the people of our state.
The force of the Kochs came down last week when the Tennessee Senate voted to stop Nashville's Amp project. StopAmp.org Inc. publicly thanked AFP for its help. Regardless of what you think of the pricey and controversial bus rapid-transit project, such out-of-state interference is troubling, because it supersedes local knowledge and authority on either side of the issue.
But an analysis of 22 local television news affiliates from January 1 to April 21 of this year -- the span of the state's most recent legislative session so far -- shows only four mentions of AFP's connection to pending legislation in the state. Despite the lack of coverage, AFP was busy pushing multiple pieces of legislation in recent months, including a reduction of state income tax, bills to slow the possibility of Medicaid expansion, and opposing Common Core education standards. While the top four newspapers covered the relevant issues and legislation being influenced by AFP in the same time frame, the disclosure of AFP's involvement varied. The Tennessean and the Knoxville News-Sentinel included AFP's involvement in their reports, mentioning the group's connections 14 and nine times respectively. The Chattanooga Times Free Press, with three mentions, and Memphis' Commercial Appeal with two mentions, made little effort to note AFP's activity. While disclosing legislative influences is crucial across all forms of media, it is especially vital for local television to disclose outside influence like AFP's as local television remains the country's top source for news.
Local media outlets across the country published uncritical reports highlighting a conservative influence group's so-called economic competitiveness report, despite criticism of previous editions of the report over its methodology and findings.
On April 15, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) published the 2014 edition of its annual "Rich States, Poor States" economic competitiveness ranking, which claims to be "a forward-looking measure of how each state can expect to perform economically." For the seventh consecutive year, Utah was given the top spot for future economic outlook in 2014; New York was ranked last, and has never risen past 49th place.
Local media outlets quickly picked up the report and mainly discussed their own state's rankings and the rankings of neighboring states. Conservative radio station WOAI in San Antonio, Texas, published a blog detailing the report; including a quote from co-author and Heritage Foundation economist Steven Moore whom WOAI referred to as an "ALEC analyst":
A conservative group says Texas is tops in the country in economic activity today, but the American Legislative Exchange Council warns that the state's economic performance in the future will be rocky, largely because state government is spending too much money.
"That wasn't the good budget," ALEC analyst Steven Moore told 1200 WOAI news about the budget approved by the Legislature in 2012. "Not withstanding [sic] all of the very good things that are happening in Texas, and with the very big increase in the size of the economy."
ALEC ranks Texas no better than 13th nationally in terms of future economic performance.
Despite the uncritical, often glowing, pick-up by local media outlets, ALEC's competitiveness report has received scrutiny in the past, mostly due to evidence showing that economic data does not comport with the results of their study.
Local journalists covering Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's case stress he is no victim and is breaking the law, regardless of conservative media's sympathy for his defiance of government orders to remove cattle from federal land.
Those reporters and editors -- some who have been covering the case for 20 years -- spoke with Media Matters and said many of Bundy's neighbors object to his failure to pay fees to have his cattle graze on the land near Mesquite, NV., when they pay similar fees themselves.
"We have interviewed neighbors and people in and around Mesquite and they have said that he is breaking the law," said Chuck Meyer, news director at CBS' KXNT Radio in Las Vegas. "When it comes to the matter of the law, Mr. Bundy is clearly wrong."
Bundy's case dates back to 1993, when he stopped paying the fees required of local ranchers who use the federally owned land for their cattle and other animals. Local editors say more than 85 percent of Nevada land is owned by the federal government.
Bundy stopped paying fees on some 100,000 acres of land in 1993 and has defied numerous court orders, claiming the land should be controlled by Nevada and that the federal government has no authority over it.
Last year a federal court ordered Bundy to remove his cattle or they would be confiscated to pay the more than $1 million in fees and fines he's accumulated. The confiscation began earlier this month, but was halted because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had "serious concerns about the safety of employees and members of the public" when armed militia showed up to block the takeover.
But for local journalists, many who have been reporting on him for decades, that image is very misguided.
"He clearly has captured national attention, among mostly conservative media who have portrayed him as a kind of a property rights, First Amendment, Second Amendment, range war kind of issue," Meyer noted. "That's how it has been framed, but the story goes back a lot longer and is pretty cut and dry as far as legal implications have been concerned."
He added that, "Cliven Bundy and his supporters are engaged in a fight that has already been settled. There are a number of people around these parts who have strong reservations about Bundy's actions."
Las Vegas Sun Editorial Page Editor Matt Hufman said depicting Bundy as a victim is wrong.
"The BLM had court orders against him in the 90s telling him to get off federal land," Hufman said. "He's got a bunch of these arguments about state's rights, it's not federal land, blah, blah, blah. All of the arguments have been knocked down."
A gas company is attempting to use a half-century old Pennsylvania law to frack underneath the land of property owners who refuse to allow the controversial practice on their land, yet a majority of Pennsylvanians may be unaware as two of the state's top three newspapers have failed to mention the contentious issue.
Hilcorp Energy, a Texas-based oil and gas company, is pushing legal action in Pennsylvania to be able to drill underneath the property of landowners that have refused to sign a lease if enough of their neighbors have already signed, a practice known as "forced pooling." The "unused and outdated" law, which is "pitting neighbor against neighbor" as reported by the Associated Press, would "shred private property rights" according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, the only of the three highest circulating papers in Pennsylvania to cover the story. The other two, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, have completely overlooked the issue which has received national attention.
The "forced pooling" law would force landowners to allow the use of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to extract natural gas reserves underneath their property without their consent, creating concerns about the impact on property values and the threat of water pollution. A leaked document from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that natural gas extraction has caused methane to leak into domestic water wells, causing "significant damage" to the drinking water supply of the town.
Pennsylvania isn't the only state dealing with the "forced pooling" issue. Energy companies have been exploiting similar laws in many states including in Illinois and Ohio to the outrage of unsuspecting landowners. In Ohio, citizens are "furious" about the ruling that one citizen fears will "make him legally responsible for spills and other damage" according to the Associated Press. Some residents have "resigned to losing future income," while dozens of others are pushing forward lawsuits in an attempt to stop the forcible drilling.
There is a similar sentiment in Pennsylvania even among those who support natural gas drilling and fracking. For example, Pennsylvania's Republican Governor Tom Corbett -- a strong proponent of natural gas extraction in Pennsylvania -- opposes the law, likening it to "private eminent domain." And Marcellus Drilling News, a pro-fracking news site, has expressed disapproval of Hilcorp's use of the law, calling it "the low road."
The New Hampshire Union Leader used a widely criticized study to attack the Affordable Care Act (ACA), claiming that insurance premium rates will be increasing exponentially in New Hampshire. However, the study has been panned for its low response rate while the data found in the study is at odds with official data provided by the state.
A Union Leader editorial highlighted a survey first reported in Forbes and conducted by Morgan Stanley which purports to show that premium prices will increase nationally mostly due to the ACA. The Union Leader used one aspect of the survey's findings, that premium prices will increase 90 percent on the individual market in New Hampshire, to attack the ACA and claim it will not bring down premium prices as originally intended:
The stunning news this week was that health insurance premiums in New Hampshire are up 90 percent under the Affordable Care Act, according to a regular survey of health insurance brokers by Morgan Stanley's health care analysts. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, writing in Forbes, relayed that the Morgan Stanley team attributed the increase to four factors directly related to Obamacare: "the age bands that don't allow insurers to vary premiums between young and old beneficiaries based on the actual costs of providing the coverage, the new excise taxes being levied on insurance plans, and new benefit designs."
Despite the Union Leader and Forbes' ringing endorsement of the findings, the study has come under withering scrutiny. The study itself explains that "the trends among the individual insurers" are not as useful as the aggregate trends due to the fact the observations were much smaller. Indeed, for New Hampshire, there was only one registered response to the survey. Only two states produced double digit responses, California with 14 and Idaho with 31.
As a post by local television state WMUR 9 explained, "21 percent of all survey respondents were from Idaho" while in New Hampshire, "they said they talked to one person, who they don't name." The piece went on to explain that because of the study's low response rate for New Hampshire, WMUR did not run the story saying, "it's all based on one anonymous person's opinion."
Three major newspapers in Kansas have ignored the role of funding from the Koch brothers in the passage of legislation that strips teachers in the state of their right to due process before they are fired, a longstanding right that gives teachers the ability to challenge dismissals.
The director of a summer event sponsored by the The Blade of Toledo, OH, says the scheduled appearance of Ted Nugent is sparking a backlash from members of the community who take issue with the conservative commentator and musician's virulent commentary.
"All things being equal I wouldn't bring in a guy who is aggravating people, that is not my intention," said Mike Mori, The Blade's sales director, who is also event director for the Northwest Ohio Rib-Off, a four-day food and music event the newspaper has been running for four years. "It seems like this thing has kind of ballooned in the last couple months. I will probably think long and hard about inviting him next year."
The Blade announced today that Nugent, whose offensive comments about President Obama and other leaders have drawn criticism, will play the festival on August 8.
Mori said he has already received "quite a few" calls from readers objecting to the appearance. "It surprised me how many calls I got," he said. "I'm listening to the people and I probably will do something different next year if I can."
But Mori told Media Matters if he cancels Nugent's appearance this year, he still has to pay him the full fee, which he declined to reveal but said is more than $50,000.
"I have to pay him that even if it rains," Mori said. "I wish the guy would just not say the things he does, he brings a big audience, he's from Michigan, he packs the place. If everyone hated him, nobody would come. He does have a following, it's a tough situation. I try to have a diverse type of a line-up."
Mori, who stressed that he is "not a fan of the guy's politics," said he had signed Nugent to play the event in October 2013, before the latest uproar. He added that Nugent played the Rib-Off festival in 2012 without incident.
Mori said the festival pays most of the major acts about $50,000, adding that many big names want double or triple that amount. He said the fee is lower to keep down ticket prices, which run $6 to $12 depending on the performer.
Blade President and General Manager Joseph Zerbey did not respond to requests for comment, while Blade Editor Kurt Franck declined to offer an opinion.
"I try to make a mix of music, I try to stay out of politics, I'm in a tough position," Mori said. "I don't agree with what the guy says."
Clean energy policies are under attack in Ohio, led in force by members of an organization that connects corporations including fossil fuel interests to legislators. But this connection, to the American Legislative Exchange Council, is being overlooked by the state's major newspapers.
North Carolina's three largest papers by circulation gave little news coverage to the Medicaid coverage gap, or the number of North Carolinians who make too much for Medicaid without expansion but not enough for affordable coverage on the exchanges, mentioning the gap in only 8 out of 80 news articles since the end of the previous legislative session. 28 percent of uninsured North Carolinans would fall into the gap including 54 percent of people of color.